Dollywood Family Amusement Park, located in the heart of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Northeast Tennessee, offers something for everyone who dreams of enjoying a refreshing mountain getaway to break up the heat of summer, but still wants to get their dose of excitement from the action and thrills of a major theme park!

Dollywood, Festival, Summer, Travel

Dollywood Festival Characters. Photo by Teronya Holmes

7 Reasons to PLAY at Dollywood

Summertime vacations to the mountains conjure up varying expectations in the minds of different folks. You and your spouse may entertain visions of hiking through the dense, lush forests, creek-walking in chilly mountain streams, and enjoying the cool evening breezes rocking on the porch, watching fireflies light the night in unison. But perhaps your kids envision a different idea of “cool” – thrilling roller coasters, sticky-sweet cotton candy, and mind-blowing entertainment?

Well, I have the answer for a destination attraction to make everyone happy – Dollywood, a theme park located in the heart of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Here are 7 fabulous reasons your family should play at Dollywood this summer. Also, be sure to check out my follow-up post on “7 Reasons to Stay at Dollywood Summer 2016” to continue the summer fun in the Smoky Mountains!

1. Lightning Rod: The Newest Roller Coaster!

This newest roller coaster opens soon, and is being billed as the world’s fastest wooden coaster and the only one that starts from a launch! The story behind it is really fun, based on a young man named Johnny Rev who discovers a special fuel that makes his hot rod go really fast! Coaster enthusiasts from all over the world are anxiously awaiting the opening of Lightning Rod, so you’ll want to be one of the first to give it a run! (At this time, a launch date is not confirmed, as this ride is going through an extended “commissioning process” to ensure the utmost in guest safety.)

Dollywood

Dollywood’s newest coaster: Lighting Rod! Photo by Teronya Holmes

2. Dollywood’s Barbecue & Bluegrass Festival (May 13-22, 2016)

An annual event that launches the unofficial start of summer, this festival combines delicious barbecue with the biggest names in bluegrass. Free daily concerts, pounds of pulled pork, barbecued chicken, and ribs by the slab – this family-favorite event is music to my ears, and taste buds!

Dollywood Theme Park Dining

Dollywood’s Apple Pie is Filling For Sure! Photo by Teronya Holmes

3. Dollywood’s Great American Summer (June 11 – August 7, 2016)

It’s a party every day in the summer at Dollywood, with extended park hours (10 am – 10 pm), and new shows to keep you entertained between the thrill rides. This year features Chris Perondi’s Stunt Dog Show, and award-winning illusionist Brad Ross. There’s also a dance party in Wilderness Pass every evening to get your family on their feet just before Dolly’s Nights of Many Colors lights up the sky with festive nightly fireworks featuring uplifting music and interactive elements.

Dollywood Theme Park Museum

Dollywood’s Chasing Dreams Museum. Photo by Teronya Holmes

4. Dollywood’s Unique Outdoor Classroom

Just because summer’s here, it doesn’t mean education takes a back seat at Dollywood! Dollywood offered a unique zoology lesson at the spectacular Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, home to the country’s largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles. Dollywood is also headquarters for the not-for-profit American Eagle Foundation which promotes the preservation of the bald eagle. The center of the sanctuary at Dollywood is a 1.5 million cubic-foot natural outdoor aviary in the park’s Craftsman’s Valley area, recreating the birds’ natural habitat and giving guests the rare opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close. Also, don’t miss a Birds of Prey show at the Wings of America theater, and the neighboring Birds of Prey viewing facility. While you’re there exploring in the Craftsman’s Valley area, centuries-old history comes to life as Dollywood features dozens of craft demonstrations daily. Students and guests can watch master craftspeople practicing their unique art forms, such as glass blowing, candy making, blacksmithing, leather crafting, candle making, wood carving, and pottery. In addition, many choral groups and school bands perform in the park throughout the summer season.

Dollywood Eagles Outdoor Education

Eagle Education at Dollywood. Photo by Teronya Holmes

5. Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Adventure Park

Located right between Dollywood and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is this 35-acre water park, named “America’s Must-See Waterpark”. It features a variety of water slides and attractions, from mild to wild! RiverRush, a water coaster, was claimed Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket for Best New Waterpark Ride for 2013. You can also rent Riverside and Waterside Retreats if you desire more privacy and luxury amenities. This park operates Mid-May to Labor Day.

Dollywood's Splash Country

Dollywood’s Splash Country – The Butterfly. Photo by Dollywood Media

6. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction

Billed as “The Most Fun Place to Eat in the Smokies”, this “dinner attraction” (because it’s much more than just “dinner and a show”) was reimagined just last year with a $2.5 million renovation, which included a state-of-the-art LED wall backdrop added to the 35,000 square-foot arena. New audio and lighting technology is breathtaking and enhances the excitement, creating an intense and immersive feeling. The show was full of equestrian feats, barrel racing, animal races, horse-drawn wagons, dancing, singing, and competitions with a friendly rivalry incorporating the audience. Dinner, the other star of the show, was a four-course feast including buttery biscuits, a whole rotisserie chicken, hickory-smoked pork loin, corn, potatoes and more. I was surprised to find out that there are no utensils offered with the meal – everything you eat, from soup to dessert, is eaten by hand. For the soup course, I was concerned until my server explained that the cheesy biscuit was my spoon – yum! Make sure you arrive early so you get to start your evening with a visit to the stables to greet the animal entertainers, and enjoy the comedy and amazing bluegrass and country music of Mountain Ruckus, the house band, while enjoying a cool drink in the “saloon”. Show times and reservations are available by calling 1-800-356-1676 or visiting www.dixiestampede.com.

Dollywood Dinner Attraction

Dollywood’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction. Photo by Teronya Holmes

7. Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure Dinner & Show

Dolly’s latest Adventure Dinner & Show is sure to be a hit! With the opening projected “sometime in May 2016”, I was granted a construction-phase tour, just so I can assure you that this show is going to be amazing! The set is huge, and is set up to accommodate what I believe will be show-stopping athletic feats and family entertainment. The meal, in the same vein as Dixie Stampede, promises to be the same type of hearty food, fit for a lumberjack! Check out the www.lumberjackadventure.com website to keep track of the progress and check for opening dates.

Dollywood Dinner Show

Dollywood’s Lumberjack Adventure Dinner & Show. Photo by Teronya Holmes

Now, Where to STAY? See “Part 2”

All of this play is going to be exhausting, and the area famously boasts lots more to see and do, as it encompasses Sevierville (Dolly Parton’s hometown), Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. You’ll want to find a peaceful, relaxing place to lay your head at night, and Dollywood offers two fabulous resort options to tempt you to extend your stay and take advantage of some more of the “cool” offerings in the area. Don’t forget to read my post, “7 Reasons to Stay at Dollywood Summer 2016”.